Among the US Marine Corps’ many slogans is this: There is no encirclement, but there are situations in which you can shoot in any direction. This logic also applies to Israeli prisoner releases, which cannot be even called exchanges.

Sure, the Shalit release is the most heinous of them all. Not because of the sheer number of terrorists released—there had been larger exchanges. And not because murderers are being released—previous governments have released Palestinian murderers too, and criminal law recognizes little difference between murderers and those who failed at carrying out a murder. The real difference lies in the number of high-profile terrorists released, Israel’s conscious choice to inject them into the Palestinian political process to the detriment of moderates, and Israeli hypocrisy in hiding that outrageous fact by demanding their exile, which would be short-lived in any case.

Chief of staff Ashkenazi, really a simple-minded soldier appointed by the political elite for that very reason, blindly adhered to the army’s dogma of leaving no soldier or corpse thereof behind. Like most slogans, this one sounds great, but its application to real life is dreadful. Soldiers die or risk their lives in suicidally risky missions. A country which sends its soldiers to their likely deaths has obviously washed its hands regarding any particular soldier. It is immoral but nonetheless true that soldiers have obligations to society, but not vice versa. If anything, the society must assure its soldiers that the lethal risks they take are not in vain. That guarantee fully applies to the tens of thousands of soldiers and policemen who detained the terrorists who will be exchanged for Shalit. A legalistic society shows its low regard for soldiers when it sends them to detain known terrorists instead of bombing their nests, which would be safer for Israelis. The ideal of leaving no man behind does not square with IDF’s practice of endangering them for political reasons. Now, if soldiers are constantly endangered and sacrificed for political reasons, then that policy must apply to all of them equally. Ashkenazi himself would consider successful an operation in which we detained several terrorists of the highest standing and hundreds of trash-prisoners at the cost of only one Israeli soldier lost. So why not lose Shalit now and keep the terrorists jailed?

Ok, Ashkenazi simple-mindedly clings to a slogan, but what about politically astute Barak and Netanyahu: why do they accede to the exchange? They know that the deal is really about a few valued prisoners, the others being on the list only to mislead Israeli and Palestinian public opinion. Israelis, presumably, will react less negatively if the release of high-profile terrorists is watered down by hundreds of minor security prisoners. Palestinians will be happy to see hundreds of their own released; in a society of extended families, the return of a thousand prisoners would make a hundred thousand of their relatives happy. In the best-case scenario we would expect a devilish Israeli plan to undermine Palestinian moderates and stall the peace process. That is not the case. Nor is it about justice for Shalit as an Israeli citizen, for justice is thus denied to the victims’ families, who are no less citizens than Shalit’s. Looking at Colonel Klein and other Israelis arrested abroad on semiofficial business, the government is not concerned about its kidnapped subjects. The case is not about connections, either. Shalit’s family is well connected, but so are the families of the Park Hotel victims whose murderer is prominent on the exchange list.

The government is not concerned with a soldier’s life: indeed it would be more convenient for everyone concerned if that corporal had the guts to commit suicide. By now he would have been forgotten, just like his comrades who were killed in the same ambush. Nor is Shalit of any practical importance to the army, as was Tannenbaum, who was privy to one of our most important military secrets.

For the answer look at the most prominent terrorist ever released—Arafat. Technically, Israelis started talking to him after he agreed to renounce terrorism. In practice there were many indirect contacts before Oslo, and after Oslo Arafat continued to support terrorists. Israel has supported many terrorists besides Arafat. I’m not referring to Israel nurturing Hamas in a shortsighted attempt to set it up against Fatah. Quite simply, the terrorists were on Arafat’s payroll but the payroll had been financed by milking Israeli consumers via the infamous tax transfers. Back to the point, Israel didn’t put Arafat the arch-terrorist in jail, though our tanks were stationed meters from his bunker for years.

A similar attitude pervades Israeli relations with other terrorist leaders. Decades ago, Hamas and Hezbollah leaders used to hide from us. Not anymore. They travel officially as do Ahmadinajead and Rafsanjani, whose planes could and should be shot down. At the apogee of infamy, Israel allowed two thousand known terrorists to attend a conference in Bethlehem – and missed the chance to bomb them all. What indeed is the point of keeping thousands of easily replaceable rank and file terrorists in jail while the top dogs remain free?

The Israeli government is so immersed in negotiations and business dealings with Palestinians that it has stopped regarding them as enemies. It treats this war of religions as a matter of police enforcement against criminals. Naturally, criminals are lowly folks. Leaders just cannot be criminals. Criminal enforcement must be prosecuted cautiously. Thus the Israeli refusal to worsen the prison terms for jailed terrorists. They claim there would be an international outcry. Nonsense. Only fringe leftist groups would mar their reputations by defending jailed terrorists, and those groups have no shortage of reasons for lambasting Israel regardless of the conditions in her jails. Besides, Israel can worsen the terms while remaining well within the internationally prescribed limits, even though no other country adheres to them. There is no prisoner’s right to satellite TV, cellular phones, and pocket money at taxpayers’ expense. The real reason the government keeps jail conditions so resort-like, better for Arab terrorists than Jewish criminals, is that it strives to emphasize that Palestinians are mere criminals—indeed especially protected foreign criminals—rather than enemies who would deserve the harshest treatment. For if Palestinians are principled enemies, then what is the basis for diplomacy and internationally popular peace efforts?

And here we come to the Marines’ motto. This war cannot be prosecuted in police terms, with arrests, court justice, term sentences, and releases. It is futile to distinguish between murderers, would-be murderers, logistical supporters, and masterminds. They are not criminals of varying degrees. In fact they are not criminals at all, but respectable enemy soldiers who must be killed by whatever means available. In refusing to release Israeli Arab terrorists along with their Palestinian counterparts the government reiterated the point that while other Palestinian terrorists are criminals (thus jailed rather than interned), the Israeli Arab terrorists are all the more criminal and cannot be treated to the military privilege of prisoner exchange.

All of them are good Arabs. All of them detest their Jewish benefactors the way Maccabean Jews detested our Greek benefactors. And the Torah says that all of them must be killed.